In a further sign of thawing relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel, Riyadh has announced that it will open its airspace to all legitimate aircraft paving the way for Israeli planes to fly over Saudi territory.
Without mentioning Israel, Saudi Arabia’s Civil Aviation Authority tweeted that it had decided “to open the Kingdom’s airspace for all air carriers that meet the requirements of the authority for overflying.”
This allows Israeli flights to the Far East in addition to direct flights between Israel and Saudi Arabia for Muslim pilgrims.
Saudi Arabia only began allowing Israeli airlines to fly over its territory in a special air corridor for flights to and from the UAE and Bahrain after the Abraham Accords were signed. The change means flights to and from India, Thailand, China, and other locations in the east can cut over the Saudi peninsula, saving hours of flight time.
“This decision is the result of the President’s persistent and principled diplomacy with Saudi Arabia over many months, culminating in his visit today,” U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said in a statement from the White House shortly after the announcement.
Saudi Arabia, which oversaw the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Morocco establish diplomatic relations with Israel, has insisted that Israel should settle its conflict with the Palestinians before it could normalise relations with Riyadh.
But analysts say that Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has signalled his interest in improving relations with Israel, as both countries view Iran as their regional rival.
It’s widely thought that Saudi Arabia already has clandestine intelligence and security ties with Israel, but no announcement on new co-operation is expected during Biden’s visit.
The President will be meeting Saudi leaders on Friday after arriving in Jeddah directly from Israel. He will join a Gulf summit on Saturday that includes the leaders of Egypt and Jordan.